Friday, March 29, 2013

Guest Post - What Do You Do When Your Loved Ones Don’t Recycle?

“Hippie” is what I am called by my boyfriend any time I rip a paper towel in half as opposed to using the full sheet, or wash out a plastic container to use again instead of buying new Tupperware, or walk around the house turning off lights in rooms we’re not in. “Annoying” was what my best friend called me when I moved in with her and insisted we dig out her trusty blue recycling bin to use instead of collecting dust in the garage. I’m sure there have been other choice phrases used to describe my need to help others become aware of and care about the effect we have on our planet.

As environmentally conscious people, it can be a frustrating path to navigate when we’re making enormous efforts towards reducing our own footprint, yet watching others make choices that practically undermine our own efforts (or at least that’s the way it feels). So how do you approach a loved one with the subject of “Quit being so ignorant and recycle your empty milk jug!”

First of all, it’s never going to be helpful to make someone else feel badly about their personal choices. Such is life when it comes to diets, parenting styles, spending habits, and any other number of sensitive subjects that are essentially, none of your business. Even a person who loves you may not want to hear how you feel they should be living. However, when it comes to our shared living space named Earth, it somewhat is your business and (to me anyway) becomes harder not to chime in.

The trick is not to come across as a know-it-all, looking down your nose on someone’s day to day habits. Always keep in mind that while you feel your opinion is “correct” and “best” and “the only opinion worth having,” there is always someone who is doing more than you. You recycle your bottles? Big deal – some people never use bottles to begin with. You cut your garbage in half? Great – I read of one lady who only produces one bag of trash per year! I’m sure some people thought at the beginning of this article “she uses paper towels? How wasteful!”

The point is, you wouldn’t want someone making you feel badly about your efforts because no matter how small, any effort is better than none. So when approaching your loved ones about their impact on the planet, do your best not to make them feel like you’re scolding them.

Once you’ve gently broached the subject of the giant footprint we all make, it’s time to find out if its ignorance or simply insolence causing their damaging behaviors. Some people legitimately do not believe in, or know about the crisis afoot, so some gentle debating and fact checking might be in order. Others do not care and do not want to hear it. Either way, keeping the discussion light and starting very small is the way to go. Simply getting someone to recycle whatever their city will take away for them is an excellent start. Maybe entice them with some of the excellent rewards programs that large cities are offering for recycling – in Philadelphia I’ve wracked up thousands of points, just by recycling, that I can use for gift certificates, coupons and discounts for a wide variety of items. Saving money is a great way to encourage someone to save our planet as well. Find out what, if anything, they are doing for the planet and maybe try to come up with some small steps in the environmentally responsible direction.

The bottom line is, you can talk until you’re blue in the face but the best way to get someone to take a look at their own actions is to lead by example. Silently taking a glass bottle out of the trash and placing it in the recycle bin can have an impact. Reusing the same utensils, plate, and coffee cup at work can plant a seed in a co-worker’s mind. Or maybe suggesting to upper management ways to save the company money by going green (like purchasing everyone their own coffee mugs instead of constantly buying disposable ones) can help the environment and your career at the same time, while ensuring you look like a hero and not a raging hippie on a war path.

No matter what your tactic, the end goal for all of us remains the same: save our environment! Every piece of information shared, every person debating the issue has potential to change just one more person’s mind. Even my best friend begrudgingly began recycling, and my boyfriend will use his paper towels more sparingly, and I consider those wins because I personally believe that the best way to make big leaps is by taking small steps, every day.

Rubi Wiswall is a writer for Revolution Recovery, a Recycling company in Philadelphia PA. She loves educating on and learning about anything related to the environment and ways to stay green.